Inner Demonologues, Ingroup Responsibility, Service, Fields and Flow

I hope you all enjoyed Thanksgiving! Some people wondered about the headers – I was just having some fun thinking of ways of portraying the context:

  • Idea/Phrase Painting: I’m trying to paint a new idea (at least to myself – no idea is totally new), either original or new packaging.
  • Mentality Massaging: means I’m taking an idea coined by someone else already and then thinking / wrestling with it.
  • Learning from Mistakes: self-explanatory
  • Skill Harvest: this means I’m trying to grab multiple ideas from whatever skill I’m learning at the moment..

Phrase Painting: “Inner Demonologue”

  • I just had my last algebra lecture where I decided to honor Richard Feyman by letting students ask anything except “religion, politics, and the final exam” for an hour. Despite the unfortunate popularity of my love life as a topic of inquiry (?!?!??), there were a lot of good questions on setting goals, being happy, and execution (unprompted by me!). When I was explaining the annoyance of inner monologues taking up mental space, I accidentally uttered something like “inner demonologues.” After a friend pointed this out, I decided I really like this phrase.
  • a good property of “inner demonologue” is its initials. Psychology experts will probably complain that most of inner monologues are about the ego and not the id, but as a non-expert I can afford to be sloppy. So there. 
  • visualization: inner demon talking to you in a high-pitched, nervous voice. It reeks sloth, excuses, and self-pity. It promises protection, self-importance, and sour grapes. 
  • Concrete problem: it is a system 2 (and some of 1) loop that takes a lot of attention away, which is annoying as attention is a limited resource. It is the voice telling you to take a fancy bank shot instead of a textbook pool shot because the girl next to you is cute. It is also the voice that tells you that you “are” a 3kyu so it really sucks taht you are losing against a 4kyu in an even game of Go (even though the way to actually win is to tell it to shut up so you can focus on actually playing).
  • this is just to introduce the oh-so-clever phrasing. I have a lot to say about actually fighting inner demonologues since it appears in basically every field, and I may cover those in the future after some brainstorming. This is a very similar skill as fighting insecurities, which I think I’ll cover next time.

Phrase Painting: “Ingroup-reflexive Responsibility”

  • there are a few ideas from morality, self-improvement, sociology, etc. that I find can be put into the same bucket and connected with Spider-man, so here it is the result of my painting. Not catchy, but I think important for building culture.
  • Definition: if a group X has problems, it is more important for someone inside the group to address the problem than someone outside the group. My argument is that by whatever bias you want the ingroup is going to respond much better to someone inside the group pointing out these problems than someone else, so in consequentialist terms if you want better results, you need someone inside the group to complain. This is unfortunately hard because it loses status… 
  • Example: I’m Asian-american. Asian-americans as a group have strengths and weaknesses. If a white person points out this weakness, no matter how right he/she is as a whole the group is probably going to react in the worst way possible, if just because they have the out “he/she doesn’t understand what it feels like to be Asian” which is totally correct but may not dim the magnitude of the correct statement made by the white person.
  • in sociology, an example of what I call “ingroup reflexive responsibility” is the saying: “Feminism is a man’s problem.” Basically, the problems Feminism faces come from men’s behavior change more than women’s, and men are not going to listen to angry feminists, though they may listen to the alpha male inside their group.
  • the stupid way I’m connecting this to Spider-man is the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility.” I think of power here as expected impact; in terms of changing, say, mathematicians’ fossilized beliefs, what a physicist says, despite being much closer to mathematics than most other groups, will probably be ignored by the mathematical community mostly. However, if a mathematician says the same thing he/she’ll probably get a lot of respect and reaction, at least from similarly ranked mathematicians in the ladder. This means the relative power for this particular task (influencing mathematicians to improve an in-group problem) of the mathematician is much higher for the ingroup person than an outgroup person. I think with that comes the responsibility to find MORE problems in the group of people you associate with than other groups.
  • if we jump a level – treating yourself as a group of one, the ability of changing yourself comes from mostly within you than other people telling you to do stuff. [this is a very weak analogy and doesn’t seem to work for many people]
  • concrete action: I think it is important for me to think about what groups I belong to and what problems they have. Thinking about problems other groups have will probably be both much less informed and much less impactful, so on both an epistemological and instrumental level it seems like a less useful use of time.

Mentality Massaging: “Service”

  • continuing discussion of service from last time, which got the most feedback. (Thanks!)
  • businesses fail when you don’t love customers enough. This is a really important example and implicit in a lot of good entrepreneurial / business writing. 
  • Concrete ways of inducing service: thinking of being fortunate, thinking of love, thinking of your own pleasure being serviced.
  • Criticism of my mentality: I mentioned using avoiding my negative emotions at seeing my students’ negative results as a motivator. This, in my opinion, is better than seeking appreciation, but still doesn’t line up perfectly with my students’ goals. It seems worthwhile to eventually line up my emotions directly with their goals. I agree there are levels to be gained here.
  • Nice quote that really separates “service” and “servitude” (I think of these as a virtue and a negative-sum-game, respectively) “You’re serving. You’re not a servant. Serving is a supreme art. God is the first servant. God serves men but he’s not a servant to men. ” from Life is Beautiful.

Mentality Massaging: Fields and Flow

  • Some people mentioned interest in my description of small physical shifts / change of environment to improve bartending technique. I think about this concept quite a lot and have had different amounts of success. I went ahead to generalize this idea (it was going to be a “Idea Painting”) and remembered basically an exact translation, so instead of making a new word like “Switching” I’ll use the idea of “fields” and “flow” (butchered somewhat) from the works of Venkatesh Rao, whose philosophy of “narrative rationality” sounds closest to what I actually do in practice and fairly far away from economic notions of “rationality.” (I ❤ Rao)
  • Rao experts can chip in here, but my interpretation of “field” is the environment you set up very deliberately for the thing you want to work in, and then “flow” is the natural usage of the “field” induced by the little nudges that your field sets up. examples/analogies galore!
    • in physics, you can think of electric/magnetic particles being placed and then they exert “fields”, this induces other things to “flow” in ways induced by the fields.
    • in the book “Nudge” and related econ ideas, there is a lot of talk in making small changes to incentive strucutres to induce (nudge) small changes.
    • hilariously, in the cryptic but awesome Go book “Zone Press Park”, I think the go master O Meien, despite seeming a little high, is hitting on the concept of “field” and “flow” with “Zone” and “Press”: the “zone” is teh way stones are put on the board and what forces tehy radiate; the “press” is the pressure that new stones being put on the board feels. 
    • in teaching, a lot of “field” and “flow” is in what is known as “blackboard technique” because of the way you space out the board to make it easy for the students (sectioning things off, keeping important things on, having an everpresent outline, etc.) In the psychological side, my “field” would be something liek setting up trust early (and an idea of the classroom being an absolute safe place to explore and ask questions) because that nudges participation.
    • in architecture, I think people would yawn and call this the essenece of architecture: setting up the physical space to induce particular kinds of movement.
    • in programming/computing, we think of .emacs, emacs (for different reasons as .emacs =D), hotkeys, desktop layouts…

Misc. Feedback

  • Bad bar name ideas (Names made anonymous to protect identities): Foo Bar, A Man Walks into A, None
  • N. points out it is good to appreciate successes as well as review failures. I totally agree.
  • K. asserts that Gendlin claims that Focusing is *not* getting in touch with feelings, though getting in touch with feelings is a prerequisite skill for focusing. I like to think of them as skills that reinforce each other, but overall I trust her over me on this topic.
Posted in WYL

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